At Toyota Park in May, Philly sat back, let the Fire run circles around them like some mean, old dog, then got a seemingly innocuous free kick and suddenly Jack McInerney, in on goal, kicked the team straight in the gut. That game felt like a one-act play, where the characters on stage build to an obvious conclusion, some grotesque act that you know is coming but still shocks and hurts when you see it live.
This Saturday, the Fire went to Philly to continue their climb back into the playoff picture and battled in a Three Act work of considerable drama. Each was punctuated by a goal. Here’s the liner notes, starring Philly and Chicago, two mysterious characters.
Act One, The Set-Up (0-45’)
Kick off. Philly comes out first, Chicago wakes up slowly, stretches arms to the sky, makes coffee, realizes it’s in the middle of a game, and immediately pops into action. Philly, who tried to come out with high and tight pressure, find themselves being passed around in sequences of quick one-twos and flicks, like those that lead to a beautiful first goal, with not even 10 minutes gone.
Philly broadcasters (the chorus), clamor for more “intensity” from the home team. The Fire look comfortable but ominously cannot extend their lead. They start to slow down a bit and Philly enjoy a few minutes of confidence-boosting possession at the end of the half, including a couple of dangerous free kicks. The plot thickens.
Act Two, The Montage (45’-54’)
This short intervening act provides the backbone of the drama. A little character development. Fresh off their orange slices, Philly and Chicago come out ready to party again.
Like Act One, Philly threaten first (Conor Casey flashes a shot just wide of goal two minutes in), but Chicago recovers and takes the upper hand. How predictable is this? Chicago finds space everywhere and kick off a few minutes of possession in the opponent’s half like we haven’t seen all season.
Cue montage and “Danger Zone.” A few not particularly interesting forays forward foreshadow something for Philly, but Chicago cruises.
What can go wrong?
Act Three, The Climax (54-90)
The Montage ends. The motorcycle crashes. Le Toux gets in on Chicago’s right and Sean Johnson makes a kick save. Chicago attacks and Rolfe finds enough space to squeeze a shot off - but Zac MacMath tips it over the bar. Go time. Philly go forward and get their goal with 30 minutes left - so much time for both to fight out the end.
Suddenly Philly is everywhere. Sean Johnson makes an impossible save off a corner. Another is cleared off the line. Chicago is wavering badly, Philly is matching Chicago’s dominance from Act Two.
There is no music. Chicago fights with their inner identity battle between the disappointments early in the year and their confidence to close games. (Mike Magee said after the game, “I think there was a point in the 65th minute where we had been getting pummeled the whole half and we all kind of looked at each other and said this game is there for us to win.”)
Two subs come on in the 67th, as Klopas tries to overturn Philly’s momentum.
And then it happens, the climax. Chicago confronts Philly. They continue pressing. The spirit of fight and persistence embodied in Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko combine with harrowing pressure. Nyarko fights the ball loose from a Philly midfielder and plays in Magee. Magee finishes calmly.
Your girlfriend is crying, but there’s still twenty minutes time! The drama carries over but the game is rarely in doubt. A penalty shout scares the audience, so nobody leaves their seats. Then the violin music. A stoppage time kiss at the sunset. Chicago steals the points.
The Fire head east to Philly on Saturday night to take on the Union in a critical Eastern Conference clash (LIVE 6:30pm CT on My50). After earning a credible come-from-behind draw in Houston last weekend, the Men in Red will be confident of picking up all three points (and extracting some revenge) at PPL Park.
Here are some things to keep an eye on from a tactical perspective.
Isolating Jeff Parke – getting behind and in 1v1 situations with the Union defender
Similar to the Fire, individual errors have cost the Union in recent matches and veteran defender Jeff Parke has been the weak link in the Union defense over the past few MLS games.
Though excellent in the air, his positioning errors or slack marking led to numerous chances created for the opposing team. In both matches against Chivas and Houston, Parke was either forced or strayed out of position, leaving room behind him to be exploited.
With the ability of Magee and Rolfe to drop into deeper positions to pick up the ball and thus drag defenders like Parke out of position, the other Fire players must recognize these opportunities when they arise and try and take advantage of them.
Staying with the runners – trying to limit giving up preventable goals
In soccer, there is a major difference between giving up a 30 yard screamer and giving up a tap in because a defender decided to switch off and not follow his runner.
WATCH: Athletico Coaching Corner
All too often for the Fire this season giving up easy goals and frequently going a goal behind has been the teams M.O. Fire center back Bakary Soumare has made more than one costly error over the past month, most recently on the Dynamo goal last weekend and the center-back will be looking for a solid performance against his old club on Saturday.
With that being said, the defense as a whole has been guilty of individual errors which has meant that the team’s last clean sheet in league play was nine games ago, twelve if you count all matches. As I have mentioned in previous previews, a clean sheet, especially in an away game, would be a major positive for the Fire.
Against a team with such attacking threats as Philly, a clean sheet would also give the back line confidence heading into the biggest game of the season to date, the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal against D.C. on Wednesday (TICKETS).
Taking advantage of the diamond system – pressuring Philly in their defensive third
The Union usually use a system similar in some ways to the Fire, deploying only one recognized defensive midfielder. In Philly’s case this is stalwart Brian Carroll.
Carroll plays in the “Makelele role,” sitting in front of the back four, breaking up attacks and rarely venturing into the opposing team’s attacking third. In this system, the assumption is that Carroll will not give up possession or be ahead of the ball in his defensive third.
One way to counter this system is to pressure Carroll and the Philly defenders when they have the ball and try and force turnovers in their defensive third.
We all saw how effective this tactic can be on the Fire’s goal last weekend. Patrick Nyarko stole the ball from a Dynamo defender before bursting into the box and crossing to Mike Magee for a tap in finish. A similar turnover on Saturday night could lead to the winning goal for the Fire.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from Magee and Alex.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve
MLS Player of the Week, Goal of the Week nominee, the accolades just keep on coming for Chris Rolfe, but why not? His fourty-fifth minute brace completing goal from Joel Lindpere's perfect placement can only be described with one word... Sick.
That's why MLSsoccer.com's Greg Lalas breaks it down in this week's Anatomy of a Goal.
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
After a rousing comeback against Portland last time out in the league, the Fire start a busy period Wednesday night against a tricky Colorado Rapids team (LIVE 7pm CT on My50) who just their six-game unbeaten streak snapped at the weekend by San Jose Earthquakes. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective:
Exposing the Rapids center backs: targeting Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne
Colorado's usual starting pair at the center of the defense is Shane O'Neill and Drew Moor but with the Irish-born youngster in Turkey with the US U-20 team, right back Marvell Wynne has slotted into the middle.
Against San Jose last week, this pairing had a lot of trouble, especially when the Quakes attacking players separated and isolated the center backs.
The movement of Rolfe and Magee, both very mobile strikers, could open up the Colorado defense. If the Fire’s attacking pair can draw Moor/Wynne out, it can lead to space being created behind them, something San Jose did well last weekend.
Keeping an eye on Deshorn Brown - the rookie has 4 assists this season
Similar to my thoughts a few weeks ago about D.C. rookie Kyle Porter, Deshorn Brown has caught my eye for Colorado this season.
Playing on the left of a front three he’s dangerous and a good supplier of the ball for striker Edson Buddle. Much of Colorado's chances in the past few matches have come from Brown’s side.
Larentowicz, Duka Preview Colorado
The Rapids will be without Atiba Harris after his red against San Jose last week which puts even more emphasis on Brown to step up in the Kittitian’s absence.
Right-sided players Jalil Anibaba and Patrick Nyarko will need to be very wary of the rookie on Wednesday night.
Fire squad rotation - my case in for it
The Men in Red have a tough stretch of 4 games in 11 days and it would be very demanding on the players to try and stick with the same starting XI for all four because of a risk of burnout.
A more likely approach would be one of steady and not drastic rotation meaning making a few changes each match and not starting a completely different team. This is of course assuming the team doesn't pick up any injuries or suspensions during this stretch.
Giving a few players a break Wednesday night with one eye on the tough away Eastern Conference match against Columbus on Saturday might be a worthwhile policy for head coach Frank Klopas.
Fire squad rotation - my case against
Something fans have criticized coach Klopas for is sticking to a regular starting XI and not making too many changes from game to game.
That being said, the team is currently unbeaten in four games and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The last 20 minutes against Portland last weekend was the team’s best spell all season and if they can continue that form the next few weeks could see us in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals and moving closer to the MLS Cup playoff positions in the East.
With the back line finally stable and the Mike Magee/Chris Rolfe partnership starting to really gel, there is a strong case for coach Klopas to stick with the same XI during this run of games.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
Last year we here at Always on the Inside put our eggs in one basket when it came to #MLSAllStar voting by getting behind talisman winger Patrick Nyarko.
Stealing the Chicago White Sox idea of #TakeJake, (a ploy to get pitcher Jake Peavy to Major League Baseball's All-Star Game), we decided to push the #PickPat hashtag on Twitter. Along with the social calls to action, we got CSN Chicago's Dave Kaplan in on the action, with him displaying this sign on Chicago Tribune Live.
While there was a lot of nice buzz created, in the end, Pat wasn't chosen (though I still think he should have been).
Fast-forward to today when we find out that Mike Magee is second in fan voting among MLS midfielders (even though he's a forward in Chicago) to go to this year's All-Star Game vs. AS Roma at Kansas City's Sporting Park.
- A career high of eight MLS goals in 12 games played this season (currently third most in MLS and definitely most for a "midfielder").
- 10 goals in 14 competitive matches in 2013.
- As of Tuesday, he's never not scored in a match for the Fire, tallying four in as many games since joining the Men in Red last month.
- A true leader on the field and player that has come into his own over his 11-year MLS career.
- While the MLS All-Star Game is a reward for achievement during the first half of the season, we'd be remisce if we didn't mention that Mike Magee has won two MLS Cups and two Supporters Shields over the course of his 11-year MLS career.
- #MikeMageeFacts can truly go national when he's included among the league's best players.
Vote for Mike, Patrick Nyarko, Jeff Larentowicz, Sean Johnson, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe by clicking here or by texting the player's last name to 22442 through July 2 at 2pm CT.
In the Fire's Reserves first foray into the MLS/USL Pro partnership, the team dropped a 2-1 decision away to the Charlotte Eagles at Queens Sports Complex Friday night.
Led by Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich, the team started eight first team players and three from the club's Development Academy sides, two of which (Jake Taylor and James Myall) slotted in as center backs.
The Fire Reserves took the lead just before halftime. In a play quite similar to Patrick Nyarko's winner in Thursday's Open Cup match vs. Columbus, Michael Videira's cross from the right found Quincy Amarikwa at the back post where he headed past Eric Reed to make it 1-0 in the 42nd minute.
Charlotte responded with a number of chances in the second half outshooting the Fire Reserves 12-0, forcing Paolo Tornaghi into eight second half saves. . They would find their two goals in the span of five minutes as Christian Ramirez equalized in the 70th before Ben Newnam found the winner in the 75th.
Two more Fire Academy products Jeff Farina and Hayden Cochrane made cameo second half appearances, meaning the maximum five Academy players were used in the game. The Fire Reserves fall to 1-4 on the 2013 campaign and will welcome the Eagles to Toyota Park on Saturday, June 29 at 7:30pm (Live webcast on Chicago-Fire.com).
For more, visit the match report on CharlotteEagles.com.
Chicago Fire - Paolo Tornaghi; Wells Thompson, James Myall*, Jake Taylor*, Hunter Jumper, Brendan King (Jeff Farina 76'), Mike Videira, Grant Lillard*, Yazid Atouba (Hayden Cochrane 74'); Corben Bone, Quincy Amarikwa
Charlotte Eagles - Eric Reed, Fejiro Okiomah, Matt Gold, Ben Newnam, Shaun Francis (Nick Courtney 46'); Stephen Okai, Sam Asante, Jorge Herrera, Nate Thornton (Will Prado 88'), Juan Guzman (Drew Yates 34'); Christian Ramirez (Tommy Smith 76')
CHI - Quincy Amarikwa (Michael Videira) 42'
CHA - Christian Ramirez (Sam Asante) 70'
CHA - Ben Newnam (unassisted) 75'
CHI - Jake Taylor (caution; Foul) 12'
CHI - Wells Thompson (caution; Foul) 82'
Statistics CHI CHA
Shots: 4 15
Saves: 10 3
Corners: 4 4
Fouls: 16 10
Offsides: 1 2
Referee: Dustin Thorne; Assistant Referees: Ross Cox, Gustavo Solorio; Fourth Official: Brandon Cline
The Fire head west to Utah on Saturday night after dropping two games against the Union both at home and in Philadelphia. The team is without a goal in three games and face a daunting task against \ in-form Real Salt Lake (7:30pm CT on My50). RSL swept Chivas aside last weekend, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
The return of Soumare – more changes for the Fire back line?
On Thursday, the Fire acquired former player Bakary Soumare from the Union. Soumare will provide some much-needed depth at the center back position with the long-term future of Arne Friedrich in doubt.
Soumare’s return comes at a good time for the Fire who are without a number of players due to injury and suspension. With Wells Thompson suspended, Frank Klopas could choose to move Jalil Anibaba to the right side of defense and slot Soumare in alongside Austin Berry.
Athletico Coaching Corner: Real Salt Lake
The injury to Friedrich has meant a longer than expected spell in the middle for Anibaba and in his absence, the right-back position has changed hands on numerous occasions this season.
Though right-back isn’t Anibaba’s natural position, the defender has played there for a lot of his Fire career and is comfortable in it.
Against a team like Salt Lake who are known for their aerial prowess, another big body on the back line like Soumare’s in addition to Anibaba and Berry would be very useful.
Getting some consistency in defense is very important from here on out and a starting four of Anibaba, Soumare, Berry and Segares would appear to have the right blend of youth and experience.
The Fire’s attack – pace vs possession
In both games vs. the Union, coach Frank Klopas started Patrick Nyarko up front with Chris Rolfe in an attempt to bring some speed to the forward line.
Against Salt Lake however, a more logical tactic would be to use a bigger body who can hold the ball up and can be used as an outlet to relieve pressure.
Sherjill MacDonald is fit again after an illness and could start up front as the target forward. This would allow the Fire to move Patrick Nyarko back to the wing, possibly in place of Joel Lindpere who has logged a lot of minutes this season.
Though Nyarko’s creativity and pace in the attack worked well against Philly, his desire to track back and help the defense could prove very important, especially against a team with a wealth of attacking options who are so offensive minded at home.
The problem with starting MacDonald up front is that he can oftentimes be left devoid of support and it will be up to players like Rolfe, and Duka to get forward and support the Dutchman.
If he does get the nod, the battle between him and the RSL center backs such as Kwame Watson-Siriboe will be very interesting to watch.
RSL’s midfielders – tracking runs into the box
RSL plays with a diamond midfield system with Kyle Beckerman anchoring and Javier Morales playing at the top of the diamond. Morales is the team’s playmaker and oftentimes acts as a third striker, getting forward to support the front two.
Duka, Larentowicz preview Real Salt Lake
Though Morales is an obvious target, players like Ned Grabavoy and Luis Gil who play on the flanks cut inside on a regular basis, making runs into the middle when joining in the attack.
With this many players getting forward, the Fire must be aware not only of who is marking who but must prevent RSL from getting second ball opportunities.
Similar to the Fire for most of the season, RSL likes to play with at least one mobile striker while the other tends to play higher up the field.
The mobile striker, oftentimes Joao Plata, drifts into wide positions, usually on the right hand side. His moves out wide open up more space for players like Morales, Grabavoy and Gil to move into.
Plata has four assists this season and is a good crosser of the ball. His crossing ability was displayed earlier this month against Vancouver where he put in a perfect ball Gil to head home the winner.
Staying tight with runners from midfield and not allowing second ball opportunities will improve the Fire’s chances of getting a result on the road dramatically.
Prediction: Rio Tinto Stadium is one of the hardest places in MLS to get a result in. The Fire has had no luck this season and perhaps Saturday night will be the night. 1-1 with Chris Rolfe scoring the Fire’s goal from the penalty spot.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.
UPDATE - Segares clarified his comments following training on Wednesday.
"Its always an honor to be called up to the national team and represent your country. Regretfully at this moment the injuries the team is suffering along with the Open Cup game and league game against Real Salt Lake prevents the team from allowing me to go with the national team. If it was my decision, I would love to go with the national team but regretfully its just not the right moment. My door is always open for a national team call-up."
Last week, Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares was summoned by Costa Rica for next week's international friendly against Canada in Edmonton.
With Segares having mostly gone unselected by the Ticos the last few years, the call-up was a welcome one. With the Fire experiencing a high amount of injuries, Orrin Schwarz reports the Fire left back turned it down in order to stick with the Men in Red through Saturday's game at Real Salt Lake and Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup match at Charlotte Eagles.
"We have important games coming up, and it's not a FIFA date, so I cannot leave my team right now," Segares said. "We need to stay together. It's not the right time for me to go."
The Fire head to Philadelphia on Saturday night to take on the Union for the second time in seven days (Coverage begins 6pm CT on My50). The Men in Red dropped a heart breaker 1-0 at home last week despite creating a number of chances. Philly played LA at home at midweek and lost 4-1 after a second half defensive collapse. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Rolfe and Nyarko up top – repeat the first half of last week
In the first half against the Union at Toyota Park last week Patrick Nyarko terrorized the Philly defense, running at them with pace and creating a number of opportunities.
Rolfe and Nyarko combined well and were very close to each other on the pitch. The movement of the pair dragged the Philly center backs out leaving massive pockets of space in behind for the Fire to exploit.
WATCH: Nyarko, Berry Preview Philly
This happened on a number of occasions and NBC analyst Kyle Martino pointed it out over and over again on the broadcast.
In the second half however, the duo were too far apart and then Rolfe was moved out wide later. It goes without saying they’ll need to play closer together on Saturday.
When Rolfe and Nyarko force the center backs out of position, players like Dilly Duka and Joel Lindpere need to do a better job of tucking in and taking advantage of that space, something the team didn’t do enough of last week.
Philly were unable to deal with the pace of Nyarko last week and the Fire should look to get the ball to the Ghanaian as much as possible again Saturday.
Kleberson – keeping an eye on the “unknown” Brazilian
In Philly’s game against the Galaxy Wednesday night the Union gave a first start to Kleberson in midfield. In the first half, LA was unable to deal with his movement and defense-splitting passes.
Kleberson got forward constantly to help out Jack McInerney and Sebastian Le Toux in the attack and was allowed two or three shots from just outside the box. He also dropped deep and found the strikers with some brilliant through balls.
In the second half, LA was a lot tighter on the Brazilian and he was less effective. Though he may not be fit enough to play the entire 90 minutes against the Fire, I would expect him to start after his excellent full debut against LA.
Logan Pause and either Daniel Paladini or Jeff Larentowicz must track Kleberson's runs and be wary of balls played in behind. Logan did a fantastic job of cutting out through balls in last weekend’s match and the Fire will need a similar effort from the captain on Saturday, especially if Kleberson gets the start.
Focusing on Philly’s left side – opportunities for Duka and Thompson
I spoke last week about the weaknesses of Philly defender Raymon Gaddis who filled in on the right for the suspended Sheanon Williams last weekend. Against LA on Wednesday night, Gaddis returned to left back and was again caught too far forward on a number of occasions.
On the one hand, Gaddis and Keon Daniel combine very well in the attack and are certainly a threat but both players fail to track back defensively when the Union turns the ball over.
On a number of occasions on Wednesday night Bakary Soumare had to come over to almost the left wing to cover for Gaddis who was nowhere to be found. LA took full advantage of this, attacking down Gaddis’ side for most of the match.
Against Philly last weekend, right back Wells Thompson looked somewhat reluctant to come forward despite the fact that Dilly Duka was constantly coming inside and leaving space for Wells to run into. Both Thompson and Duka should be looking to attack Gaddis at every opportunity on Saturday night.
Prediction: 3-1 Fire with goals from Nyarko, Rolfe and Lindpere
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.